Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Huxley: Buddhism in the future ("Island")

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; Velma Lush (, "The Influences of Eastern Philosophies in Aldous Huxley's Island"
The Parable of the Raft: No man is an island (dipa), so be a lamp (dipa) unto yourself, make a raft of the Dharma, and paddle to the further shore of nirvana (

Aldous Huxley (
Aldous Huxley's utopian final novel, written in the 1960s and set on the fictional Buddhist island of Pala, offers psychedelic drugs ("moksha medicine") and tantric sex, but otherwise isn't fun.

In his last major work, Island, the evils Aldous Huxley has been warning us about in his earlier works -- over-population, militarism, coercive politics, mechanization, the destruction of the environment, and the worship of science will find their opposites in the gentle and doomed utopia of Pala (Woodcock 18).
Huxley [author of Doors of Perception] used his books to explore his struggles against personal tragedy and to search for the meaning of human existence. His interest in eastern philosophies and mysticism began in the early twenties with the study of Blake and Bohme.
His fascination with Eastern religion was one of the reasons he departed on a world tour in 1925. The island of Pala is probably one of the islands of the [historically Buddhist] Indonesian Archipelago.
In Island, Huxley's portrayal of the Palanese beliefs demonstrate principles of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. The beliefs, values, and struggles of a lifetime are combined to form this culmination of his life's work.
The Palanese culture, as described in the book, started with the mingling of Western science and Oriental philosophy, in the characters of Raja of the Reform and the Scottish physician, Dr. Andrew MacPhail. 
The Raja had hired Dr. MacPhail to remove a tumor from his face during the early 19th century. The Raja and Dr. MacPhail and their descendants worked together "to make the best of all the worlds -- the worlds already realized within the various cultures, and beyond them, and the worlds of still unrealized potentialities" (130).
Will Farnaby, a journalist whose boss also owns Southeast Asia Petroleum, finds himself shipwrecked on this island. Under two motivations, Farnaby asks and is given permission to stay for a month. Farnaby, or Huxley, is genuinely interested in learning the culture, not only for literary reasons, but to find out more about himself.

His second motive is to negotiate a lease between Southeast Asia Petroleum and the Palanese government, for which he will earn a large sum of money. At several points throughout the novel Farnaby feels guilty about betraying his guests. Farnaby comforts himself with the thought that if he didn't do it, somebody else would. The forces of history are working (84).
As in the Hindu philosophy outlined in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna explains to Arjuna that he is an instrument of the action; it is his fate or destiny to fight. The same holds true for Farnaby; his destiny has brought him to Pala for a reason.

Dr. Robert MacPhail, the grandson of the Dr. Andrew, suggests "to have a better understanding of what was actually done to develop the Palanese culture, you start by knowing what had to be done, what always and everywhere has to be done by anyone who has a clear idea of what's what" (34).

And so Farnaby begins his learning about Pala by reading the underlying principles of its existence, the Notes on What's What. The Palanese are described as Mahayanists Buddhists "shot through and through with Tantra" (74).
The first principle "Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there" (35) shows an element of Taoist philosophy.
The fictional version of Tantra can be interpreted as Taoism, since being a Tantrik means you don't denounce the world and try to escape into nirvana. You accept the world and everything about it. 
The Mahayanist Buddhist philosophy of the Palanese aims at the passage beyond suffering into the Clear Light of the Void [shunyata] of all living beings (nirvana), while living according to the Tao, appreciating and working with whatever happens during a person's life on earth.

Nirvana is a blissful state or freeness of mind. You can see the true essence of things; you can see their reality. The Palanese are taught to understand and appreciate life by being constantly aware of who you are in relation to all experiences. Over a thousand birds inhabit the island mimicking the word "attention," reminding people to pay attention to everything they do. From the beginning, children are taught to do things with a "minimum of strain and maximum of awareness" (145).
By the time children are 14, they've learned to get the best objectively and subjectively out of any activity (146). The Palanese make use of everything they do, everything that happens to them, all the things they see and hear and taste and touch, as a means of liberation (74).
By being fully aware of what you're doing, work becomes the yoga of work, play becomes the yoga of play, everyday living becomes the yoga of everyday living (152). One of the means of becoming aware of yourself in relation to the universe (being enlightened) is through "meditation." 
Meditation is considered "Destiny Control" since it opens your mind to an intuitive level to a greater understanding and awareness. The Palanese believe in the Buddhist philosophy that suffering is universal [i.e., that all conditioned phenomena are unsatisfactory], but one-third of it is sorrow inherent of the human condition and two-thirds is homemade as far as the universe is concerned (85).
Life is full of "changes and chances...beauties and horrors and absurdities" (26). Destiny Control cannot take away all the pain of suffering in bereavement, for that would make a person less than human (98). 
With meditation your mind can be "blue, unpossessed and open" (86), understanding that "man is infinite as the Void" (185). The body is merely a covering. The (Hindu and Buddhist) karma and (Taoist) mind of your loved one lives on [after death].
In their initiation into adolescence, Palanese youth climb a dangerous rock precipice to remind them of the presence of death and the essential precariousness of all existence. At the end of the climb, the children are introduced to moksha [liberation] medicine or revelation of life. 
Artist's rendering of the coming Future-Buddha Maitreya shrine (
As outlined in the [Eastern] wisdom of China and India, enlightenment or nirvana, means divesting oneself of the illusions of the sensory world and constantly rising to a higher conception of an ideal world (Yutang 550).

The moksha medicine is described as the banquet of enlightenment, while meditation is considered dinner. During the moksha ceremony, the Lord of the Dance, Shiva-Nataraja, dances in all worlds, the world of the senses, the world of matter, the world of endless coming and passing away, and the world of Clear Light (170).

The flame can be considered representative of the "Tao" or thread that holds all the universe together. With the ceremony, the people understand the nature of their existence, the "One in plurality, the Emptiness that is all, the Suchness totally present in every appearance" (170). More

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